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A Chat with Monsur

Monsur contributed to the tech editing of this book, so it wasn’t too hard to track him down. I’ve developed projects with Monsur in the past, and we sometimes hang out. So I already knew most of the stuff I asked him in this little fireside chat (without the fire). I must confess, though, that I didn’t realize Monsur had a degree in Electrical Engineering. I think he can build robots.

BIZ: Where did you start your web programming career?

MH: At Amazon. I worked on developing shipping and warehouse software, as well as web programming for the “Your Account” section.

BIZ: What did you do before that?

MH: I received my Electrical Engineering degree at a time when the web was all the rage. So I decided to set aside my knowledge in semi-conductors in favor of web programming.

BIZ: And you started at Amazon? Nice.

MH: Learning how Amazon worked “behind the scenes” was an amazing experience. Once I even met Jeff Bezos at a company party.

BIZ: Did you ask for a raise?

MH: We chatted about his newly born son.

BIZ: How’d you end up “behind the scenes” of blogging?

MH: It was the allure of the web that took me to New York and Xanga.com. Xanga was my first exposure to blogs and the blogging community. My experience there taught me just what it takes to build a successful community on the web.

BIZ: So then you decided to create Bloglet?

MH: Yeah. The idea for Bloglet started while exploring the myriad of blogs out there. Each day I’d discover a new blog I wanted to read regularly. Pretty soon, the list of blogs I wanted to read was just too long. I needed a way to keep up-to-date on my favorite blogs without spending a day doing it.

BIZ: What is Bloglet?

MH: Bloglet is a service that allows you to send daily emails of your posts to anyone who subscribes to your site. So now instead of visiting every site you want to read, you can just have their content delivered to you in an email. It makes it much easier to keep updated on your favorite blogs.

BIZ: How does it work?

MH: Bloglet works through the XML-RPC interface , which allows two systems to basically “talk” to each other, regardless of what operating system or programming language they are using.

BIZ: C-3P0? Huh?

MH: XML-RPC is basically a standard format with which to send and receive messages across the web. It uses XML as the mode of communication; hence, the name XML Remote Procedure Call, or XML-RPC. Evan Williams (founder of Blogger.com) recently released an XML-RPC interface to Blogger.

BIZ: So this XML-RPC deal makes Bloglet possible?

MH: Yeah. There is a whole range of ways a programmer can interact with Blogger using XML-RPC. They can do things like retrieve and set a site’s template, add or edit posts, or get recent posts. Programmers can use these functions to write their own services that interact with Blogger. The specific XML-RPC function that Bloglet uses gets the most recent posts from a site.

BIZ: Cool. So, Bloglet just interacts with Blogger on my behalf?

MH: This is exactly what Bloglet does. It uses Blogger’s XML-RPC function to get the posts from a particular day. Then it sends these posts out to all subscribers. All you have to do is provide some basic information so that the program knows how to access your particular site.

BIZ: Yeah, but doesn’t that lessen traffic?

MH: Not at all. Bloglet allows three formatting options for the email. You can either send the entire post in an email, send the first few characters of a post—you have control over how many characters—or just send a note to the subscriber saying that the site has been updated. Those options will provide just enough information to have your subscribers visit your site. In fact, I think Bloglet helps increase traffic, because the emails remind your readers that your site is being updated regularly, and they are more inclined to stop by for a visit.

BIZ: I see. You can send out a “teaser.” But I would think people would shy away from signing up to too many blogs because of all the emails they’d get every day.

MH: The nice thing about Bloglet is that it only sends a single email to subscribers, containing all the updates from sites they are subscribed to.

BIZ: How long did it take you to build this subscription service?

MH: It took about two months to program Bloglet. Surprisingly, the actual code to get and send the emails, the meat of the program, wasn’t that difficult. The majority of time was spent building the surrounding web site, making it usable and user friendly. This included stuff like building the web pages for users to administer their site and subscriptions (and making it quick and simple), building ways for users to quickly learn about Bloglet (Frequently Asked Questions and an About section), and building ways to let the user know there’s an error with their site.

BIZ: Well, the work shows. Bloglet is really user-friendly.

MH: Thanks! I think one of the keys to Bloglet’s success is its simplicity. It has all the power of an email subscription engine, but it only takes a few seconds to set up.

BIZ: What does “setting up” involve?

MH: If you want others to receive your blog posts in their email, all you have to do is create a Bloglet account, enter some data about your site, and then put the subscription box somewhere on your site. Then all your readers have to do is type their email address in the box, and they are automatically subscribed to your site.

BIZ: For all those techies out there, what did you build Bloglet with?

MH: The Bloglet site was written using ASP and ASP.NET. The backend uses C#. C# is new, but it has some great facilities for dealing with XML data.

BIZ: What else can Bloglet do?

MH: Since Bloglet uses XML-RPC, I can be very flexible with what I do with it. One of the cooler recent features was integrating Bloglet with Google’s XML-RPC. Google recently released an XML-RPC interface to perform searches. Using Google’s XML-RPC interface, I added a feature that searches Google for your site, and then reports how many results are returned and what the top 10 results are. This feature is great for bloggers who want to keep up on how their site is performing in the search engines.

BIZ: Google has XML-RPC too? Who else?

MH: Yeah, the Google XML-RPC interface created quite a buzz in the programming world. But many blog systems have been using it for a while. Shortly after Blogger released its XML-RPC interface, many other blog systems started doing the same. Through this interface, Bloglet was able to scale to many different systems. Bloglet currently supports Blogger, MovableType, Radio, WebCrimson, Nucleus, and Big Blog Tool. In fact, Bloglet can integrate with any system that uses XML-RPC.

BIZ: Is Bloglet going to support other blog providers?

MH: I’m always looking to expand to other systems as well. Hopefully one day you will be able to use Bloglet no matter what blog system you are on.

BIZ: What other plans do you have for Bloglet?

MH: The future of Bloglet is really open right now. It receives a good number of users every day, and I’d like to add a whole host of new features to make it better. I would like to add features to make Bloglet more flexible, and offer powerful new features for users who want a more robust email subscription engine, while still maintaining Bloglet’s simplicity.



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